(Originally published in 2018 on www.sfk.org)
The first time I “experienced” Koren Paalman was when I brought my kids to try out her “Kids Yoga” class at the Iyengar Institute, where I practice yoga regularly. Immediately I felt drawn to her presence as she joyfully invited my kids into the yoga studio, to play an irresistible game of Hide and Go Seek! My eldest boys (ages 8 and 6) fell in love with her classes from the start.
Each week I found myself yearning to share with Koren about the positive changes we were experiencing in our family, changes that I directly connected to learnings and discoveries my kids made during her yoga classes.
Below is an excerpt of a conversation I had with Koren that focused on some of the observations/questions I had. Through our talk, I was able to discover many special experiences that have uniquely shaped her life’s work of sharing yoga with the children of our world.
Alison: My children seem to naturally fall asleep easier at night on the days they practice yoga with you, am I dreaming or is that possible?
Koren: Yoga by definition is a practice that quiets the mind. According to the yoga sutras [the ancient texts of yogic philosophy], quieting the mind is the true purpose of yoga. Yet, calming the mind is easier said than done, so we use the body as a vehicle to access the mind. If we can put ourselves into a situation where we are paying attention to what our body is doing, we are connecting our body to our mind, and that is what brings about a state of calmness. It is that state of calmness that helps us unwind and let go at the end of the day.
With kids, because they are very physically motivated, it’s really nice for them to come to a yoga class and move their bodies around and explore that mind/body connection. At the end of class, I’ll put it in simple language to guide them towards that awareness, I will ask them: “How do you guys feel right now? Do you feel the same as when you came in?” I don’t say, “Is your mind quiet?” because having a “quiet mind” is not a language kids understand but rather I’m using language the kids can relate to.
Alison: Before I first brought my kids to your class, I was hesitant because I thought it would be taught the same way that adults learn yoga which made me doubt my kids’ ability to be interested. Since they have come to your class, I have observed a difference between yoga for kids versus yoga for adults and I would like to discuss a bit more with you.
Koren: I’ve been teaching youth since 1998 and what I’ve observed about yoga for kids is that people either try to teach like they teach to adults or they dumb it down too much. What’s important is to connect with those kids on that given day because kids are one way one day and another way another day. You have to connect with them on that day and see what they need. You have to have an element of playfulness and give a little to them, too. One of the big things the kids ask for is to play hide and go seek. Is hide and go seek yoga? No. Is it a great icebreaker? Can kids start to get to know each other? Get to know the props and blankets and where everything is? Yes. It’s making it fun, giving them a little of what they want to do. Then saying [to them] once you are done hiding, once you are found, you are on the mat and you are ready to go. So, you also kind of draw the line.
Kids love to be given a little but they also like a line drawn. As a parent, I’m sure you know.
Alison: I see the benefits and would love a yoga practice to be something my kids incorporate into their everyday life, (the same way I do!), and with their busy schedules, I don’t really know how to do that. Do you think that yoga should it be an “after-school activity” or rather incorporated into their day?
Koren: Yoga is most effective is if it’s practiced regularly for a certain amount of time. It’s not like it can be completely incorporated, since it has to be given its own space and time, ideally during the school day for kids. I agree with the need to not have too many add-on activities, but if yoga is effective then that is not the one to cut out. It’s in the practice that the benefits come.
What I found was most effective with the teenagers was having that 40-min practice to check in daily. It was so interesting because after that 40-minute practice you could see the changes. Teachers would come up to me and say, “Mario is so different since he signed up for your yoga class. He used to be in my class and I couldn’t handle him, he was always talking and out of control. Now he comes in after yoga, he sits down, he’s focused and his grades are better.” So, it’s really honoring the benefits of yoga and making time for it in our very busy lives. I know parents are trying to get the kids everything they need and it’s a lot of add-on activities. I think it’s a matter of prioritizing.
As my children evolve their yoga explorations, my conversations with Koren continue. We have also attended her “Family Yoga” sessions which are equally engaging. (To the kids’ delight, my husband took the Family Yoga with them too!)
We all look forward to the day when yoga is in fact taught as a regular class in schools (hopefully on a daily basis!) but until then, I have found some creative fun YouTube yoga for kids videos depicting the characters they love, like Star Wars and Minecraft (Yes, I’m serious! Check out http://www.cosmickids.com) and I have also tried to incorporate fun and mindful body movement into their lives daily (they love https://www.gonoodle.com and could “play” the movement games on the site for hours on end).
Here’s to the MAGIC of Yoga for Kids!
Comment below with any kids yoga magic you have experienced!
(Originally published in 2017 on www.sfk.org)
I want my kids to love meditation, just like I do.
My heart knows the importance of guiding them to become aware of their secret, magical, True Voice inside yet when I have tried conventional meditation techniques with them, like “close your eyes and focus on your breath” it just hasn’t worked. In truth it becomes a challenging fight, to get them to sit still and meditate.
But I just couldn’t give up!
So I had 2 thoughts:
1. Since scientific research shows us that from the age of 6-12, normal children’s brainwaves naturally accelerate to a state called ALPHA (Alpha is the same state that an adult can achieve through meditation & daydreaming), do we need to actually “get” them to meditate if they are already in alpha?
2. What if I could help them to focus in and use the meditative tools of visualization that I loved, and still had fun with them at the same time? Could I invent “games” that helped them naturally tap into their awareness?
I was eager to try it out and create games to play with them. I brainstormed, thinking about safe spaces for them to play, relax and gently become aware and try out meditative tools. So together we formed “Meditation Games” to share with you.
Our first “game” started with the running water of their bath, as we turned it on, for a few precious moments we closed our eyes and tried to focus our attention on the sounds, and how they made us feel. After a long silence my son who is 8, announced that he heard waterfalls and began to describe why waterfalls were created so all the animals living in the forests could “survive and stuff”. Then, my 6 year old began to rhythmically sing the beautiful sounds he heard that his bath water was sharing with him. And me, well I slowly watched those cleansing waters pour from the faucet but all I could hear was my children.
It was as if through the sounds of their bath running, I heard their shining souls sharing and connecting.
Next, I brought in the second game, it was time to turn the lights off and…. Light a candle!
I stood up and flipped the switch off. As the room went dark I stumbled a bit, we shared a giggle, and I struck a small match, which magically lit up a slim, white candle and I asked my children to describe the colors they saw.
As I listened and learned, their conversation sounded something like this:
“I see blue. Blue!”
“I see a little bit of pink!”
“Yea, me too, at the bottom, of the bottom.”
“I see a little bit of yellow.”
“There is obviously yellow, and there is a great amount of white if you look closely”
“Like a flashing light, it’s like one of those things that is green and spinning around and around it’s green.”
“I’m trying to blow it out”
“It’s going like this, but it’s actually going like this, like a police siren”
“I see colors too, do you Mom?”
As I write this, remembering back to experience the scene, I relive my excitement to hear them, to hold onto every word they shared, to listen to them. I discovered through them all that I desired to learn about how to experience meditation with kids, and how to share this experience with others who are interested to slowly try to incorporate this priceless gift into their families as well.
Looking back I am realizing that as I was playing the “meditation games” with them, I was invited into their sacred world and for a few priceless minutes, I got lost there.
Share you meditation games experiences in the comments..
(Originally published in December of 2017 on WWW.SFK.ORG)
I find myself mesmerized by the children of our world. Mesmerized by the light that shines from their precious souls, by who they are now, and by who they will become.
I believe that our children have joined us to heal our world.
The kids of today (or should we say the adults of tomorrow!) are full of magic and creativity. For most of their younger years they naturally function at a delicate meditative state. Children are like sponges: they are open and attuned and absorb EVERYTHING that crosses their path.
Our job is simple: to unlock for them a door to their very own “spiritual world”. To provide for them a safe, sacred, protective space where they can thrive.
There exists in our universe a “spiritual world,” a place where time space, & motion simply pause and meld into one fulfilling moment of infinite and limitless possibility (sounds like bliss, right?!). This “infinite reality” is the state of a “meditating mind” that an adult person can tap into, with practice, during meditation.
The “meditating mind” is the natural state of being of our children. It is a pure and precious state that can connect to and access the powerful wisdom of inner light, of inner soul, of “true voice”.
And our children have it all the time. It’s simply our opportunity to guide them to affirm that state.
Affirmative Meditation (bringing positive, sharing thoughts into the “meditating mind”) creates a space to be at your best, to be like the light, thriving in that pure state where all that you receive is for the sake of passing on to others.
I’ve worked at Affirmative Meditation with my kids at all ages. Most recently I chanted “I am Love, I am Peace” to my 2 year old at random times during the day, and to my enjoyment he chanted it right back to me.
It amuses me how I’m surprised every time he repeats it back; it’s as if I forget how our children mirror EVERYTHING we do! And then the motivating truth hits me and once again I’m mesmerized thinking, “they will mirror our beautiful, heartfelt actions as well.”
This little light, this flame, it’s inside us all. By pinpointing this flame in ourselves and in our children we can nourish it and nurture it. We can allow it to shine, share, grow, and light up the darkness.
Look at your kids, look at the children today, look at our future. Open up to the possibility that these children have come with everything needed to help heal our world. Together, let’s learn how to be the keys they need to unlock their future.
Close your eyes for a moment and open up to your soul. Try to remember back to a time when you were very young, to a moment in your childhood, to a very special and very long time ago when you knew the presence of the light existed inside you. Begin to have a conversation with this light inside you! Ask the light in you for the “affirmative meditation” that it needs. Listen. Pay attention to any feelings you have, any phrases or words you hear. Any images that you see.
When you have received an affirmation from your soul, acknowledge that and begin to repeat it to yourself.
When you feel ready open your eyes.
Write down whatever you experienced and share in the comments.